Missing Math, Missing Experts, Tough Decisions
Thinking Citizen Blog: Thursday is Health, Health Care and Global Health Policy Day
Today’s Topic: Missing Math, Missing Experts, Tough Decisions
Why aren’t leading economists, statisticians, and epidemiologists getting together to walk the country through the basic math? Probably because their heads are spinning too. Prudence dictates keeping your mouth shut before you have all the data. Without clear guidance, policy makers are winging it. Pundits are pointing fingers. Experts — please chime in.
THE FIRST APHORISM OF HIPPOCRATES IS RELEVANT
1. “Art is long, life is short, the opportunity fleeting, experience delusive, judgment difficult.” (Hippocrates)
2. Policymakers (and “experts”) do not have all the time to collect all the data. And data can be misleading. Experts have the luxury of silence and inaction. Policymakers don’t.
3. Policymakers must do cost/benefit analysis. Ideally, they should look at all the costs to all players over all time horizons. But there is no time.
NB: Time for a little humility, and a lot of empathy?
LOCKDOWNS HAVE SERIOUS PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH CONSEQUENCES
1. Suicides are the tip of the iceberg.
2. Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt, estimates that every $100 MM in loss of income results in one additional death.
3. Is his estimate even remotely close? Who knows?
NB: “Saving lives versus saving the economy” is a false dichotomy. Lives will be lost and destroyed either way.
IS COVID-19 AS DEADLY AS THEY SAY?
1. “Current estimates about the coronavirus fatality rate may be too high by orders of magnitude.” (Bendavid and Bhattacharya, Stanford Medical School)
2. What is the math behind the assertion?
3. Is it to be trusted? Where are the statisticians when we need them?
NB: The most detailed, numbers-filled essay on the subject that has gone viral is Tomas Pueyo’s “Coronavirus: Why We Must Act Now” but Pueyo is neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician nor an economist. His argument is totally convincing. But could a real expert tear his argument apart? The silence of the experts leaves a vacuum filled by un-credentialed, un-vetted mavericks. Who could be 100% right, 100% wrong, or somewhere in between.